Kyle Calloway reminds me of a blown up version of Richie Cunningham. The face atop the collar shirt and kaki shorts struggles mightily to grow facial hair. He talks in an ah-shucks manner and oozes politeness.
In this case, looks are deceiving…at least from a football perspective. Kyle plays with an edge, a nastiness similar to that of Marshal Yanda. This is a good sign.
Some of the best linemen in the Kirk Ferentz era transform from Mr. Nice Guy off of the field to Mr. Mean on it. Robert Gallery, Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson and Mike Elgin come to mind.
“He’s a nasty type player,” Hawkeye center Rafael Eubanks said. “He’s a road raider in the running game. He’s got about seven-foot poles for arms. I expect great things from him in his career.”
Elgin and Yanda brought that mean edge, but the unit as a whole lacked that last season. They rarely wore down opponents and struggled to establish a consistent running attack like years past.
“He doesn’t say much off of the field,” Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen said. “I’m close with him, but I really couldn’t tell you much about him. That’s just how he is. He keeps to himself. But for the first time this camp, I kind of saw him get that look in his eye. That’s a good thing to see out of your linemen.”
Think Travis Bickle. OK, maybe it’s not that extreme. But Eubanks and Christensen when talking about Calloway both give that head shake as if to say, “Man, I’m glad I don’t have to tangle with that guy.”
Calloway slipped through the cracks a little bit during the recruiting process. A military brat, he’s lived in six states. His parents moved from Illinois to Arizona during his senior season. He played his final prep regular season in Illinois and then joined the team in Arizona for its playoff run.
While some players struggle with being away from home for the first time or meeting new people at college, Calloway comfortably transitioned. That allowed him to focus on football.
“You know what to expect,” he said of moving a lot. “It opens you up to a lot of things.”
Even with his adaptability, Calloway still needed a push. Iowa Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle was more than happy to assist.
“I remember our first year when Coach Doyle kind of got on him,” Christensen said. “He told him that he had all the potential but that he had to put it out on the field. It takes a while sometimes, but when it clicks…the sky is the limit for that guy. He’s quiet, but he’s got that mean streak in him, too.”
The ’05 class for Iowa was stacked with high-profile players, including fellow offensive linemen Dace Richardson and Dan Doering. That hasn’t prevented Calloway from working his way through the crowd.
Ferentz has talked a lot about Mike Haight making great progress from all-so-ran to a factor during an off-season in the ‘80s. The coach has said similar things about Calloway.
“I had a good spring,” Calloway said. “In this camp, I got an opportunity with Dace out (injured) and I just took advantage of it. I’ve been going strong.”
Calloway has put in the time on the field, in the weight room and in studying the game. Having played mostly on the defensive line and tight end in high school, he avoided short cuts in learning a new position.
Doyle took Calloway through the paces to improve his core. The 6-foot-7 lineman exercised his hips and hamstrings and grew from 290 pounds to 315.
“It made me a better athlete,” Calloway said. “I feel a lot more mobile now.”
And Calloway already showed an aptitude for athleticism before Doyle got ahold of him. He was offered a basketball scholarship to Western Illinois to go with football offers from Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.
“I gave it some consideration,” Calloway said. “I thought that I’d make a better football player than basketball player.”
Calloway also is following another trend of success at Iowa. He studies game film for hours. He feels like that’s been as important as anything else in his ascent up the depth chart.
“Over the summer, I watched a lot of film with Coach (Reese) Morgan,” Calloway said. “It’s so much easier when you know what you have to do; what’s your responsibility. You can just go out there and give it 100 percent.”
“Coach Morgan is a great coach. I’m confident in my technique and what they teach here. It’s a great school to be an offensive lineman. They’ll get you where you need to be.”
Some critics, including yours truly, have expressed concern about Iowa’s offensive line. In addition to Calloway, two other front men will be making their first starts on Saturday against Northern Illinois in Chicago.
I’m still worrying, but in talking to players about Calloway’s mean streak have calmed me to a point.
“I try to be physical when I’m on the field,” Calloway said with a boyish grin. “I try to be a tougher guy. I come out with an attitude.”
He could very well be the next big thing coming through the Iowa offensive line pipeline, despite his choir boy characteristics.